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Shadow, Light and Latte

by Aurora Starr

Sitting in the coffee shop I watched with fixed curiosity as a thirty-something woman entered from the rain-soaked sidewalk.  Her choice of attire; a colorful skirt and solid blouse with smartly matched leggings and subtle make-up simply shrieked of someone who was poised and full of purpose. As she carefully ordered some variation of a flat white, caramel, green tea infused what-the-fuckuccino I took note of her face. Was she rushed? Flustered? Indecisive? No, shit, she looked beautiful and confident, didn’t she? One might even say that she appeared to be brimming with self-assurance. I quickly adjusted my sweater, smoothed out my skirt and then thought about shifting my attitude.

Mean Girl – Table for One

My thoughts can quickly leap from that of cool, calm Zen goddess to the founder and CEO of Imposter, Inc. Self-sabotage is something that I’m sure most women and girls are familiar with, but we rarely talk about it. Yet, the inner-mean girl seems to always be waiting just on the other side of the locker room and she is not happy. How am I certain of that? Well, if my thoughts suddenly shift to, “There are people far better and more talented than you. Life comes to them naturally and everything for you is a struggle. You’re going to fail so why even try?” then I know I am committing self-sabotage.  My personal favorite from the Mean Girl Greatest Hits Compilation, “Who do you think you are? Don’t be too happy. You lucked out and people will see through you soon enough.

The Great Pretender

What I just described is known as impostor syndrome and it is produced by feelings and thoughts of worthlessness, insecurity, and devaluation of self. In fact, even high-achievers often fear being exposed as frauds. It can occur when trying something new or even when doing something familiar. It is a constant threat of “being exposed” on a professional and/or personal level as a con-artist, and a belief and bias that most of what you do is all about the timing and people will find out.

Self-awareness can be a frustrating quality to possess. I know these things, but what do I do with them? Talk to a friend, a therapist, a priest? What good will any of that do? Then the light-bulb goes off, no amount of thinking will change anything. I’m caught in the same self-defeating, help blocking loop that brings me full circle when it comes to self-sabotage. Something must change, and I’m the only one with any control over that realization.

I am not an impostor or a fraud. I am here because I’ve worked for it. There will always be others doing it better than me, but there’s only one me. Period. I have a voice that is my own, and I want to share it with the world. It’s not about being selfish or egocentric. It’s about affirming my right to be alive and engage with others in a meaningful and helpful way. Doubting my self-worth will do little to help.

Now if this is beginning to sound like one of those self-help books or seminars, let me save you the trouble. Stop reading. I won’t mind, really. I am the first one to call bullshit on all the women and men who profess to have the answers to life and happiness and peddle their reality as truth and common sense as some sort of universal awakening.

Being Perfect in My Imperfections

When we set unrealistic expectations for ourselves and goals that are based on what we think others want then we are drafting the blueprints for self-sabotage. Instead, begin to focus on the value of what you’re doing rather than how you’re doing it. In other words, determined action is far better than perfection. Ask yourself, what value can you find in the things you do? And don’t compare yourself with others, especially on social media. Those outlets are little more than masturbation, fun for a moment, but not a substitute for a real face-to-face encounter.

Allow for the time to honor and take inventory of your professional and personal achievements without shrinking away in self-deprecating negative talk or minimizing your efforts. Again, there will always be someone, smarter, richer, prettier and more talented, but that shouldn’t stop you from being a creative beast and contributing your efforts to the world. Big or small, your accomplishments and hard work count. Be proud – smile and say thank you when you are recognized for an accomplishment. Above all, own it.

Our life journey should not be one based on comparison. It really is not a competition. I am no better or worse than the person next to me. Our life situations are different, and we are unique, but we are no better or worse by comparison. It’s all relative.

As for the woman in the coffee shop? I watched her exit as composed as she had entered, quickly hailed a cab and made her way into the rainy cityscape. I wished her the best on her journey and then wished the same for myself.

Shine bright,

Please note: The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of eTalkTherapy. Aurora Starr is a freelance writer, not a therapist, and her views, thoughts and opinions are her own. However, if you are easily offended then Aurora’s blog may not be for you. 

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Saying Yes – and No.

by Christy Gualtieri

Recently, my family helped out a neighborhood family up the street while they welcomed their second child into the world.  My kids and husband and I stayed with our friend’s older child, an adorable three year old, and spent the day with him as his parents and new baby brother settled into a routine at the hospital.  Our neighbors had a rough go of it; the delivery had some complications, and although everything, thankfully, turned out all right in the end, there were some really harrowing moments in between the long hours of the day.

Our neighbors were really thankful for our help, and we were glad to do it.  There have been many times that we’ve needed to rely on others, and we try to raise our children to feel that if we can do something to help someone else, we should.

It doesn’t need to be anything big.  It could be offering to babysit, walk a dog, pick up groceries, bring in the trash cans, picking up mail, whatever.  Offering to help an older person cross the road.  Spending some time on the phone with a long-distance friend who is going through a hard time, just offering to lend an ear instead of your opinion.

I have many friends who would do anything for anyone at the drop of a hat, just to lend a hand.  Are you that way?

It makes sense that we should try to help.  But, like everything else in life, helping requires balance.  If you find yourself being the kind of person who says “yes” to helping all the time – maybe more often than you think you can – you can find yourself getting burnt out, and starting to resent doing so much for others.

Helping others also requires saying, “no,” too.  See if this sounds familiar:

“Why isn’t anyone helping me? I do so much for everyone – take time out of my day, with all the things I could be doing, and no one helps me.  Can’t they see I’m struggling? Where’s my help?”

If it does, then it’s time to start saying “no.”  Take care of yourself.  Because if you carry on and try to push through your resentment with gritted teeth, your resentment will cause both you and those you help distress.  Something’s going to give, and it’s not going to be pretty.

Maybe you do have balance – you say “yes” when you can, and “no” when you can’t, which is wonderful!

But…do you also say, “thanks!” Meaning, you let someone help you?  Because it can be common for people to help others all the time, even when they do so responsibly, and not accept any help when it’s offered to them.  Letting someone help you gives them a great gift: it helps them feel like they’re doing something nice, it helps them remember that it’s a good idea to reciprocate and to give after they’ve received something, and it helps you to realize that you are not a superhero who needs to do everything for everyone with nothing in return.

Of course, there are seasons in our lives when we are not in a position to do as much as we would like.  But remember, balance: if you are able to help others in need, please do.  If it causes you distress, anger, or resentment, then don’t (or, find something or someone else to help).  And don’t forget to take up an offer to have the help reciprocated, every once in a while.

In doing all of this, we can help our families, neighborhoods, communities, and world be a much, much better place.

Until next time, be well!

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Is your relationship ready for therapy?

by Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC, DCC

“We just don’t connect anymore.” “I don’t trust you.”

“I hate having the same argument over and over again.” “I think it’s over.”

Sound familiar? Welcome to couple-hood and read on.

Seeing a couple’s therapist is not the first step toward divorce or separation. It is not about blaming your spouse or partner for everything that is wrong in your relationship, and it is certainly not about admitting defeat. Couples need to be open to therapy, particularly if the arguments, lies and hurt feelings are leading both to think that the relationship is permanently stuck. Couples need to be ready to work at their relationship and not expect the therapist to “fix” it for them. So, when is it time to hit the couples’ couch, you ask? Here are some indicators that couples therapy is the next step in your relationship:

“Communication, table for two?”

Do you fear sharing your feelings with your spouse or partner?  Do you feel as though it’s not even worth opening your mouth? Then it’s time to consult a therapist. Couples find themselves seeking help for a number of reasons, but poor communication and mistrust are the two chief complaints of most couples. Communication encompasses verbal contact (how well you converse and argue as a couple), written communique (texting and other forms of electronic messages), and the all important social cues, “Did you just roll your eyes at me!” 

A common characteristic of couples who communicate well: They share feelings – sorrows, joys, hopes, dreams, and frustrations.

“I think what we’ve got on our hands is a dead shark.”

The above quote is voiced by Woody Allen in the movie ‘Annie Hall’ when he realizes that his relationship with Diane Keaton has stopped moving forward and is sinking fast. Being stuck may be the biggest sign that couples need therapy. But what does being stuck look like? Simply put, it feels like the couple is doing the same thing over and over again, and no matter how hard they try to change, things always ends up the same or worse. In many ways, they’ve just given up because that is the path of least resistance. A common characteristic of couples who are not in a rut: They communicate directly and show appreciation for each other’s ideas and feelings.

“What Happened? I didn’t sign up for this.”

Consider couples therapy as a proactive endeavor. I highly recommend that any couple seeking marriage or a live-in situation seek therapy before doing so. Sure you love each other, sure you’re not like “so and so” and that will never happen to you, but why take the risk of not openly and honestly discussing how each of you might react or feel under the stress of life events like: infidelity, family issues, or financial strain? Why wait until you are in a relationship with no clue how to navigate the arguments or respectfully engage with the other? A common characteristic of couples who use therapy as a preventative tool: They face conflict open and honestly.

“Intimacy – The Space Between.”

Intimacy isn’t just about sex. It is also about our ability to be vulnerable with the other. When intimacy fades from a relationship, couples therapy is a must. Intimacy refers to the feeling of being in a close personal relationship and belonging together. It is a familiar and effective connection with another as a result of a bond that is formed through knowledge and experience of the other. Intimacy suffers when the space and distance created by one or both people is no longer tolerable. Sex (if it is happening at all) feels empty, moments that used to create laughter and sharing are no longer happening, and that “connection” you had, well, that seems like a distant memory. Can you hug your significant other without cringing? If not, it’s time to seek professional assistance. A common characteristic of couples who are able to honestly face intimacy issues: They grow together, not apart.

Remember it is always important to consider whether your relationship is ready for therapy, but don’t throw in the towel just yet. Give it a chance. You can get all the advice and affirmations you need from family, friends and self-help gurus, but there is no substitute for working together with a professional therapist in a space that is designed to help your marriage or relationship mature and grow.

If you would like to continue the conversation about your relationship or marriage click here to schedule an appointment with one of our couples therapists.

In Good Health,

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I’m not in the Mood

by Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC, DCC

We feel the love is still there, but the spark just isn’t. We get along fine,and there’s minimal fighting. We’ve been together for so many years, raised kids, took vacations, and lived as healthy as we could, but something went wrong. Months drifted into years, and now we’re realizing that we make for better roommates then sexual partners.

What happened?

You’re in a rut. You’re leading parallel lives, and don’t communicate anymore. You tell everything of any significance to your friends and family but not to each other. These are really big problems, and they are not going to just go away unless you deal with them.

The first step is to be realistic. If you’re looking for the knock-your-socks-off sex of those first few years, get real. Finding a new partner certainly isn’t a solution either. The initial passion in a relationship typically fades after about 12-18 months.  Hook up with someone new and two years from now you’ll have the same dull relationship you are currently experiencing.

Being able to fix a problem depends on what is creating the problem. There are many causes for loss of sexual desire. Some involve medical problems, such as hormones, other causes are linked to anxiety, depression or medications. If you have seen a physician and she or he has ruled out a physical issue then it is time to look at the other things that can lead to a libido drop. This may include addressing interpersonal reasons, with a potential lack of commitment in an emotional relationship by one or both partners. Perhaps one partner had his or her feelings hurt or has been turned down too many times, or one got too busy or neglectful. This doesn’t mean marriage kills sex and intimacy. It just means that sex may be the hidden conflict that neither of you wants to discuss.

Couples don’t talk about sex. We acknowledge that sex is important to marriage, but it is a subject that rarely gets discussed. It is healthy to let your spouse know what you do and don’t like when it comes to the act of sex. Let’s not minimize intimacy either. It is also healthy to let your partner know if you are less than satisfied with your sexual relationship and with the level of intimacy. Simply put, more talk of sex and intimacy can lead to more sex and intimacy in the marriage.

Careers, paying bills, obligations to family and friends, and parenting responsibilities can wear a marriage down. These are among the most common causes for one or both spouses to spend less time thinking about or engaging in sex and intimacy. Yet, all these endeavors are for nothing if there is no intimate bond between you and your spouse. In today’s world, we work hard at maintaining a particular lifestyle, but in the end the lifestyle we are working so hard to maintain means nothing if we lose our relationship.

If you are experiencing martial or relationship issues, perhaps we can help? Click here to schedule a confidential appointment to discuss your relationship issues.

In Good Health,

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Need to be Needed

By Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC, DCC

Who among us has not experienced the family member who “needs to be needed?” The person who for various reasons becomes the family rescuer? A “martyr,” “savior” or “saint” that will come through for others even at the expense of their own well-being? Codependency, by its very definition means that there a mutual dependent relationship, and that someone is usually a family member or a significant other. Co-dependency is a term traditionally associated with the treatment of addiction and recovery, but for our purposes let’s examine it in another light.

The question that comes to mind is why would someone want to be a full-time rescuer? What benefit is there to a person if she or he is driven to a point of being unhappy, resentful, chronically stressed, and physically or emotionally ill?

People who struggle with codependency typically grow up with an adult family member who demands perpetual emotional care. Often, this is a parent who never reached full emotional maturity. The phenomena of the helicopter parent comes to mind as this is someone who won’t allow for his or her child to experience the world as both a place of kindness and a place where you do indeed get hurt, sometimes badly. The codependent needs to be needed, and this is where things often fall apart when their way of understanding the world is threatened.

“I am because I serve.”

Love, confidence and self-esteem get knotted up with unending service. The codependent grows up starving for love and affection, someone who will “complete me” or fill the void. They feel significant not for who they are, but for what they do for others. The world is only as safe as they deem it to be and, therefore, they must protect those they love in the unhealthiest way possible by sacrificing their own sense of being. As a result, there can be little to no internal change for this person, that energy is redirected into trying to change the world around them. What psychological stability they can attain is contingent on making people dependent on them. This makes them fragile, resistant to change, and by all accounts the family martyr.

This is not to imply someone who is co-dependent lacks empathy, thoughtfulness or understanding. Those qualities can be quite genuine. The issue is ingrained in what tacit emotional agenda accompanies them.  This could oscillate between exhaustive periods of giving and sudden “I need to love me first” moments of resentment. The choice is never me and you, but an emotionally immature me or you. People cannot be related to as equals, but instead are seen as those who are in need of my service, AND they should be eternally grateful for my efforts.

Codependency involves a deeply rooted and highly persistent combination of attitudes, values, beliefs, and habits that will not be solved by a reading a self-help book or by a getting a prescription from the family doctor. Moreover, deciding to be “self-loving” won’t do anything either. “Loving me before I can love others” (as pop-psychology insists we chant as a daily mantra) suggests the same type of “self-sacrifice” that drives a co-dependent individual in a most unhealthy way – “See, I am learning to love myself so now I can serve others better.”

Relational conflicts require relational healing. Therapy is perhaps one of the few ways to create a relational world outside of the co-dependent’s universe. In most unresolved emotional conflicts past events remain shrouded in grief, regret and loss. These conflicts are often reinforced by attempts to self sooth or “cure” the feelings.

Beneath the worry and anxiety of someone with codependency sits an unconscious desire to obtain love, security and approval. Yet, for better or worse, the external world is not built to meet this internal need. Facing and allowing for loss and letting go submits an individual to a deep and valuable period of mourning. For the ill family member who could not be cured, for the child who did not get into the “right” school, for the vacation that did not go as planned, for the loss of love and support, misdirected energy is pulled out of persistent rescuing and gives it back to oneself. Though difficult and a times painful, mourning can ignite the process of healing. Creating a new role for those who were at one time in need of my “saving” allowing them to be who or what they actually are instead of trying to rescue them, also increases a sense of emotional maturity.

We should always remember that those who struggle with codependency are highly sensitive and caring individuals. Somewhere along the way the emotional speedometer jumped from 0 to 60 and it was never quite able to decrease to a healthier rate. Co-dependency is not a problem to be cured, but a life issue to be explored and discussed. If you feel you are struggling because of issues related to co-dependency contact us to schedule a confidential appointment.

In good health,

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February Blues

by Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC, DCC

February is the shortest month on our calendars. Psychologically, however, it is also the longest month. Leafless trees, barren landscapes, minimal sunlight, and frigid temperatures can wear a person down. For some, these environmental factors may produce symptoms of mild depression.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a form of depression that impacts a person during the same season each year. If you feel depressed in the winter, but your mood and affect improve during the spring and summer months, you may have SAD.

SAD is quite common and can affect anyone, but it is more prevalent in women between the ages of 15 and 60. Anyone who lives in a climate with extended winter months where daylight is at a premium is at risk to develop symptoms associated with SAD. However, first onset symptoms are less likely to occur as you age. In other words, If you don’t experience SAD symptoms before the age of 40 you are unlikely to develop symptoms later in life. Keep in mind, SAD is a type of depression and should not be confused with mild or moderate depression.

There is no smoking gun to indicate a definitive root cause for SAD. The one apparent link that appears to be most prevalent is lack of sunlight. This may also disturb your sleep-wake cycle and circadian rhythms, and lack of sunlight may account for a drop in the brain chemical serotonin, which is linked to mood.

Some of the symptoms you may experience with SAD include a loss of interest in activities you normally find enjoyable, craving foods high in carbohydrates, such as pasta or bread, weight gain, feelings of sadness, irritability, constant worry, and drowsiness even after a full night’s sleep. Treatment may involve light therapy. Light therapy works very well for most people diagnosed with SAD, and it is easy to use. Typically,  individuals report feeling improvements to mood within two weeks of starting light therapy. Like any other treatment, you must be consistent and use the therapy on a daily basis. Otherwise, results will not be as effective.

Talk therapy or counseling has proven just as effective as medications in treating SAD. Therapy will help you explore the root causes of your feelings and assist you with managing symptoms. Stay active during the daytime, especially in the morning, by exercising at a moderate level. Walking, swimming, aerobics, deep breathing, and yoga are a great way to start. Stay hydrated, drink at least six to eight glasses of water each day. The more you do, the more energy you will gain. In addition to physical activity, appeal to your creative spirit by journaling, drawing or finding some other artistic endeavor. If you feel as though you are experiencing symptoms of SAD or depression, please consult a therapist or physician.


In Good Health,